Saturday, 19 June 2010

The Drink Drive Debate

Like almost all police officers I have had to deliver death messages. Some stand out, particularly the young and unexpected ones. I remember calling round a ladies house on a Saturday afternoon. She answered the door with two young children running around excitedly as a policeman was on the doorstep. Her and her children's lives fell apart after I told them their husband/father was in the mortuary having just been wiped out by a drunk driver. There are others I recall, such as the parents of the 16 year old boy knocked off his bike and smashed to bits by a drunk driver who could barely stand up.

I haven't become the virtuous non drinking driver and I will have a couple of drinks when I go out but I absolutely support the recent report recommending that the drink drive limit is reduced from 80 micrograms of alcohol in 100 millilitres of blood to 50.

A few years ago now I worked in custody and had the opportunity to test myself on the drink drive machine. I could drink four pints of beer in about an hour and a half before I reached the limit. There is no way that I am safe to drive after four pints and I would have been a severe risk on the road. You lose between 7 and 13 micrograms of alcohol every hour. This means I could actually drink five pints in two hours and possibly pass the test.

Over the years I have stopped and breathalysed dozens of people. I know that many of them have had six or more pints over the course of an evening. Some of these people were blowing under the limit after an evening of six or seven pints. They could not believe they were getting away with it.

I have heard some of the wailing of people done for drink driving. They go to Court and swear they only had two pints and they thought they were OK to drive. Absolute lies and deceit, unless it was two pints of spirits.

Most countries now have a limit of 50 micrograms. We should reduce our limit as soon as possible. We probably should not drink and drive at all but I do not support a zero tolerance policy. A limit of 50 will still allow people to drive after a couple of pints. Some people won't like that but it is a damn site better than the current situation and more likely to become a reality.


  1. It takes an hour or two for the alcohol to reach its maximum level in the bloodstream. It's also the blood alcohol level that is supposed to be a guide to whether you're pissed or not.

    I believe it's more subtle than that. Sure, if I decide to down four pints in 30 minutes, I won't be affected by the full alcohol content until later. However, I reckon I'll be feeling the influence before my blood levels are high.

    It's not blood alcohol levels that make the difference between good and drunk driving. It's the brain alcohol level.

    I wonder if the brain acts as a filter for alcohol, making you unsafe to drive before your blood alcohol says you are.

  2. I could drink four pints of beer in about an hour and a half before I reached the limit.
    Correct. Our intoximeter courses were two days residential.
    In the evening we were encouraged to go to the bar and see how much you could drink before you reached the limit. It was definitely more than a couple of pints....

  3. I have a rule for myself...if I'm going to drive or ride my motorcycle (you guys call them motor bikes) I don't drink at all. None.

    In 31 years, I have arrested so many drunk drivers that I have lost count. I was sorry when I had to arrest them after they crashed---I felt like I had failed. I should have found them before they crashed.
    My therory is that often they actually loose count of how many drinks they've had. They may have actually had only 2 glasses of wine--before dinner. During dinner, they had a few more, then a few more, then a few more...and a few more after dinner.
    In some cases of them having mixed drinks at a bar (pub) some fancy drinks may have 5 or more shots of whiskey or something strong. The person may not know this, and after they've had a few, they've actually had 10 or more shots!

    Thus my rule for me, I never drink anything and drive.

  4. I absolutely agree that no drinking and driving is the correct message and anyone out on a motor bike is mad to drink anything.

    I just didn't want to come over as all puritanical and I am being honest when I say I do have a couple of drinks and drive.

    We will not get a law introduced banning drinking and driving completely yet, so lets get the limit reduced to a level where those that are still taking the piss (sic) can actually be prosecuted.

  5. Hard limits always worry me. I don't drink at all except on very rare occasions, a small glass of champagne at a wedding for example, so despite being a big bloke I've got the alcohol tolerance of a kitten. If I was persuaded to have just enough to drink that would keep me just under 50µg (or 80 or 65 and a bit or whatever limit has been decided upon) while a regular drinker my size with a much greater tolerance drinks enough to get just over the limit it would very likely be the more impaired person who gets away with it. I know that in the UK there's an offence of being unfit through drink or drugs which seems to be there just in case someone is clearly impaired while not actually over the limit, but I've never heard of it actually being used (I'd be happy to be told that it's a favourite that gets wheeled out regularly to catch any of my fellow utter lightweights that might be daft enough to drink and drive). I've not yet found out if there is anything similar in this part of Oz, but I'm told that the booze buses just stop random drivers and everyone who doesn't blow over the limit is simply sent on their way, suggesting that either there is not or it isn't used much. Incidentally, I'd worry about a zero alcohol limit because people might unknowingly consume alcohol in food or medicine. The sherry trifle might not be enough to affect driving, but just enough to get them fined or banned. I'm not convinced that does anything for road safety or justice.

    I'm not saying that the limit should be abandoned. But I do wonder why there isn't a greater emphasis on testing impairment rather than picking an arbitrary limit that, whether based on sound science or not, will always allow some people to sneak under despite being more of a danger than some who had been over*. Where booze buses are used here there are often a line of drivers waiting to be breathalysed, so I can't see any obvious reason not to get them to do the kind of impairment tests the police in the US use. I'd suggest that failing an impairment test should mean a court appearance and, if found guilty, a ban regardless of what the breathalyser result is. Passing the impairment test and failing the breathalyser... I'm not actually sure that would deserve the same treatment.

    A bonus of impairment tests would surely be that they would identify all unsafe drivers rather than just those who've been drinking. Aside from all the illegal drugs there are the legal highs, and I imagine that as one legal high is declared illegal another soon comes along to replace it. Even where you do test for drugs there's always the chance that there's a new one you can't yet test for gently frying the brain of the driver you just stopped. Impairment tests would also catch people affected by prescription meds, illness or maybe even that are just too damn tired to be on the road.

    I'm sure there are many difficulties that I haven't considered but if there's an unsafe driver tailgating me tomorrow I'll care far more about the effects on his driving than the cause.

    * Unless set so high that a biology department specimen jar would pass.

  6. The reason for tolerating a low level of blood alcohol is that the intoximeters are not absolutely effective for detecting human intoxicants; other alcohols also set them off to varying small degrees. So, instead of mandating a zero ethanol level and having to argue the toss with every "It wasn't ethanol, it was paint fumes/machine inaccuracy/digestive higher alcohols/whatever" chancer, you instead specify a low safety margin so people who blow low false readings for whatever reason don't get caught up in the criminal justice system.

    The reason why some people tolerate alcohol differently to others is firstly that there's a genetic component to how badly alcohol affects us, and how bad the mental impairment is. Secondly, people who get drunk more get better at compensating for the alcohol-induced impairment, and finally whereas young drivers may be driving relying on good reflexes to keep out of trouble, older drivers drive using different mental methods which mean they never get near the "edge", so these people show less impairment when the reflexes get slowed right down.

    As far as reducing the limit goes, I honestly don't think it'll make a jot of difference. The drivers you want to catch are the drunks, not the slightly over the already quite low limit. Drunks kill, slightly impaired drivers also kill but at much lower rates than the drunks do.

  7. Angry exile - I guess in an ideal world testing everyone as to how impaired they were on an individual basis might sound great but it just is not practical. Every drink driver would have to be medically examined and assessed. Inevitably there would be case after case in the courts being challenged. It would be total chaos.

    The biggest issue however is that no one would know where they stood. Can the regular drinker have his eight pints and drive because he feels in control? A limit does at least gives you some idea that you can have a couple of drinks and no more.

    Anonymous - I completely disagree with your assertion that a reduction in the drink drive limit will have no effect. The whole point of my post is that the people just over the limit now are drunk. People are driving drunk and getting away with it. The limit is far too high.

    By reducung the limit to 50 you actually bring into effect the completely false impression that people have regarding the current limit, that you can only drink two pints before you are at risk of being over the limit.

  8. I think Blue Knight and I went to the same Intoximeter Course (I used to run them). UK limit is way too high. I would be rocking on my feet at the intoximeter, thankful that I had a duty bed for the night, desparately trying to blow a positive, which I only did once - and even then the second blow came in at 34. It seems my metabolic rate and kidneys were way more efficient than my brain.

  9. Thank you so much for sharing it.
    When persons are found guilty of PCA offences.Prior record and other factors, such as age and sex, have an effect on the penalties imposed, with males generally receiving higher penalties than females; offenders aged 21-30 receiving higher penalties than older or younger offenders; and, of course, those with a prior record receiving higher penalties than those without priors.

    Lawyer Narrabeen

  10. Ok I'm going to get a flaming for this but...rubbish.
    I do not deny the horrific effects of drink driving and the pain and misery it causes but your anecdotal evidence does not stack up. You said it yourself "There are others I recall, such as the parents of the 16 year old boy knocked off his bike and smashed to bits by a drunk driver who could barely stand up."
    Was he slightly over the limit , probably three tims over would be my guess. I'm sorry to say that the people you are going to prosecute , in the main, are not the problem , although they do generate a nice revenue stream. It's the habitual drink driving offender who is three times over the limit and has been banned several times and is probably still under suspension. Sound familiar.

    To prove my case , may I refer you to the New Zealand statistics dept. You cant find anythingin the UK morass of misinformation so had to travel for this. Their blood alcohol limits are the same as the UK so its an apples for apples comparison. The roads are worse than the UK and the vehicle fleet is generally older.

    In 2007 for car drivers , 85 people died on the roads with 0-30 mcg of BAC , none in the 31 to 50 , 2 at 51 to 80 , 3 at 81 to 100 and then the big jumps at 121 to 250mcg BAC where it was 30 in total. The bigest spike was in drivers at 151 to 200 mcg. Well over twice the legal limit who accounted for 13 deaths.

    Jail time for repeat offenders and being over three times the limit are the only way you will bring the road toll down.

    To have a look at the stats go here. Its broken down by age group , time of day , month , day of week and , my favourite, crash type. This proves conclusivly that sober drivers generally die in head on colisions and drunks loose it round the bends.

  11. Andy C - not sure you have got the point, but if you are happy that some idiot drinks five or six pints one evening and then loses it on a bend and wipes out your nearest and dearest and then walks away scot free as they are under the limit, don't whine about it.

  12. How can we be sure we are not over the limit?
    There are many that go out for a drink and they certainly don't want to be over the limit.
    Isn't there a way we could test ourselves so we know how much we can drink and be within the limit?

  13. Lex , sorry I'm probably mixing my arguments. The person who drinks six pints and drives home has probably done it before , several times. We are not talking about having an overly large glass of wine during dinner.
    I cant find numbers but I would put money on the statement that a significant number of heavily intoxicated (over 2x the limit) drivers have previous convictions.

  14. I agree with Andy C. Anecdotal emotive claptrap. Prove to me beyond any doubt that the majority of incidents are due to people over your new limit and under the existing limit. You yourself make the case that it's people over the existing limit are the problem. If anything you are making the case for raising the limit...which I would strongly oppose.
    In the vernacular if it ain't broke don't fix it. We have had enough of a nanny state micro managing control freak state thank you very much. George Orwells 1984 was supposed to be fiction not an instruction manual. Instead of inventing new crimes and criminalising the previously innocent why not just do what we pay you for and enforce the current law.

  15. This isn't the only police blog I've seen posts of this kind on, so I'm inclined to believe it, but it does make me very puzzled. I was raised to believe, like most I think, that the current limit translated to about a pint and a half - not four or so. Are we being deliberately lied to?

    Does the reading ramp up with time as alcohol is absorbed into the system? If so, drinking until you trip a breathalyser isn't a very good picture of how much you'd need to blow over, say, an hour after leaving the pub.

  16. Stats are wonderous things that you can draw lots of idiotic conclusions from. For example. It's a proven fact that the majority of accidents involve sober people. Therefore make it compulsory to be intoxicated before driving.

    But I'd still like some Scientific proof please that tinkering with the existing limit that is widely known and has served us well, will save even one life. Given that the intentional drunk driver will disregard any limit (even the existing one). I'd prefer Government policy changed by proper scientific 100% positive proof rather than 'on the hoof' by the media clamour. Thats how we ended up with the Dangerous Dogs Act, an act widely acknowledged to be badly drafted, virtually unenforceable and of little benefit to the public.
    Scoff laws like the driving mobile phone ban are imo worse than no law because it engenders contempt for the law which permeates other areas of life.

  17. Interesting blog.

    I think it's a bit of a grey area. On the one hand I know full well the danger of drink driving - infact a member of my family had their life tragically cut short by someone who was drunk AND speeding, AND also failed to stop after the accident. He only got about 5 months in prison. He never said sorry to my family for what he did. So yes I am against drinking and driving on the whole, because the sort of person who drinks alot and then get in the car is probably the sort of person who thinks its clever to drive dangerously fast.

    HOWEVER as I live in a rural area with no public transport, if I want to go to my local pub I have to drive to my next village, now, lets say I have a drink or two, or three, my only options are to drive, walk or cycle. So I have to weigh up which is the safest option? Also as a I'm a young single female at night, travelling home on my own. If I drive, I am breaking the law as I am technically drink-driving, yet there is likly to be little or no pedestrians or other traffic and all I will pass are fields and more fields, so do I compensate by driving at a safe low speed (say, 30 mph)? I am not saying it's ok to do this, but just that these are the realistic dilemmas faced by people like me who live in the middle of nowhere.

    And as for the family member who was killed by a drunk driver, its not the fact that they were drink driving which caused the death, it was the fact that they were drink driving and SPEEDING. If they had been doing 30mph instead of 80mph then my loved one would still be here today.

    So moral of the story, it's never 'OK' to drink and drive BUT if you do then at least drive SLOW!

  18. Hey CI Roller Dude, not bad for being 31. I am 30 and have drank maybe 5 times. My goal was not to drink but peer pressure won.

  19. Very Interesting Comments! Good Post!

  20. I have to agree with you Tammy, it is a good post....and funny!

  21. Yes, it is a good post......and a very true pictures as well!

  22. I spent time in the US Coast Guard and we actually had a training where one of the guys drank and we watching him being tested after each drink. Even blowing under the limit he was not even steady on his feet, I couldn't imagine him behind the wheel. I think he went and crawled into one of the racks (beds) and slept it off.

  23. Retired - thankfully13 November, 2010 02:29

    a little knowledge is dangerous. no-one with four pints of regular beer in their body will blow a "cold one" half an hour after their last mouthful.

    restitution figures appearing in this blog are clutched from the air - why not quote the sources and the real figures?

    Blood alcohol/brain alcohol?? where did you get that idea from. its argumentative nonsense.

    33 years (28 in traffic) and MANY appearances in High Court as an expert witness (academically and practically qualified)I cannot subscribe to the idea that four pints of beer wil return a "less than 50" reading.

    The prolems lie with the national attitude and the lack of knowledge and leadership from the incompetents who speak the loudest.

  24. If I'm a male, 145-150 lbs, some muscle, have 1 margarita and wait 4 hours before driving. And if I get pulled over for something, would that be enough time for the alcohol to not show up on a breathylizer? I'm paranoid about not getting a DUI after some of my friends have gotten them.

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  26. Zajmujemy siê prowadzeniem postêpowañ karnych oskar¿onych o przestêpstwo jazda po alkoholu, tj. naruszenia art. 178a kodeksu karnego.